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    Home Defense: Shotgun vs. Rifle

    I advocate that homeowners use a pistol to get their family to a saferoom, then defend the room with a long gun. A saferoom does not need to be fancy, it doesn’t even need to be fortified, although that would be beneficial. A saferoom just needs to be a location where your family knows to gather for home defense, is equipped with a long gun (at minimum) and a cell phone on a charger to call 911. The cell phone is valuable in case the phone line is cut.

    Man holding a pistol while opening a door.
    A pistol allows you to keep one hand free to open doors or flip light switches.

    A pistol is good while gathering family since it can easily be carried and fired one-handed. This leaves the other hand available to deal with family, lights and doors, etc. But once secured in a safe room, a long gun offers increased stopping power over that of a handgun. That begs the question; is a shotgun or rifle a better choice?

    The answer is not as simple as it seems. For close range, a shotgun loaded with 00 or 01 buckshot offers devastating stopping power with little concern of over penetration. One blast creates more terminal damage than a single shot from an AR-15. If I knew that I would be facing a small number of attackers—only a close distance—a shotgun would be my choice. However, we need to concern ourselves with more than just close quarters defense.

    The problem is that we don’t know what a future threat will be. It might be one person bashing in the door 20 feet away, or 5 people rushing in. The threat may be close, or 50, 100 or more feet away. Since the threat is undefined, it behooves us to trust our safety to the most versatile weapon in our arsenal, which is a rifle.

    Man kneeling in a closet door aiming a shotgun.
    A shotgun is hard to beat for short range. However, the rate of sustained fire is slower and capacity is limited compared to a modern sporting rifle.

    I prefer a rifle over a shotgun for a number of reasons. While it carries a highly-destructive load, shotgun capacity is quite low, and reloading is not only slow, it’s awkward. Reloading a shotgun under the stress of a lethal encounter is that much more difficult. An AR-15 has a capacity of 30 +1. If I’m in the rare event that more rounds are needed, ARs are quick and easy to load.

    A shotgun, loaded with buckshot, is a close distance weapon. Over distance, the shot pattern widens to an unsafe width which can be a danger to innocents. As the pattern widens, it is possible that fewer pellets may hit your attacker. An AR, on the other hand, is a more precise weapon, without a wide spread of projectiles.

    David Kenik aiming an AR-15 for home defense.
    The author prefers an AR-15 for home defense, but admits his choice is based on his circumstances and location. Each home defenders must determine which gun would work best.

    A shotgun’s penetration and accuracy greatly decrease over distance, which reduces its effectiveness. While a rifle bullet’s velocity does slow over distance, it is quite effective and accurate out to a few hundred yards depending on the caliber and ammunition.

    Shotgun recoil is far harsher than that of an AR-15. If you are facing multiple lethal threats, the recoil of a shotgun may slow the target acquisition of additional targets. The heavy recoil also effects training and practice. I have no problem shooting a few hundred rounds of AR ammunition in practice but shooting a few hundred full-power shot shells is another story. One a related point, if you want to prepare a female partner/friend or older teens, the recoil of a rifle is much easier to deal with than a shotgun.

    In the end, it’s a personal choice that is highly dependent on your personal circumstances. A city dweller has different needs than a farmer. Pick your weapon, practice and prepare.